Scientists buzz about mite pesticides

Australian scientists are working to develop the world’s first hormone-based insecticide that is safe for honeybees but deadly to Varroa mites.

In a joint initiative between the research group Hort Innovations and the University of Sydney, scientists will create molecules to selectively bind to the mites’ hormone receptors and interfere with their reproduction, development and behaviour.

Project lead Professor Joel Mackay from the University of Sydney said insecticides targeting Varroa mite receptors had not been created before.

He says University of Sydney scientists have been working on the project for 18 months, specifically targeting honeybees and moths.

“Our goal is to make molecules that interact with this hormone and block its activity in a pest insect such as varroa mites, but not be able to interfere with the hormone’s activity in a beneficial insect, for example honeybees,” Professor Mackay told AAP.

“Most of the pesticides used in agriculture are non-selective neurotoxins that basically kill whatever you use on them, so we would really like to change that.”

But he says research is at least two years off from commercializing the concept.

The Varroa mite was discovered in the Port of Newcastle in New South Wales in late June, and has since been found on 42 properties across the state.

By mid-July about 1,570 beehives had been killed, with more than 15 million bees destroyed in an attempt to eradicate the parasite.

Australia was the last remaining moth-free continent until recently, and authorities are still hopeful they can eradicate the moths.

On Saturday, a permit was created for registered beekeepers to cross through New South Wales to and from Queensland with strict conditions.

This includes ensuring that bees cannot escape while in transit or travel through varroa eradication and emergency areas.

Hives and bees that have been in eradication areas for the past 24 months or in the Narrabri emergency area since April 30, 2022 will not be moved.

The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries said that while there is still a statewide freeze of beehives, movement from the public biosecurity emergency zone is allowed under a permit-based system.

There were an estimated 315,100 beehives in NSW before the discovery of mites.

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